Behind the Curtains of Indian Animation

by the Students from the Animation Workshop, Viborg, Denmark

When, as animation students, we think about animation around the world, we immediately think of the big studios in the USA and Japan...or the individual artists in Great Britain, Canada and Central Europe. But, what about India? In our total ignorance, we didn't even know that there could be animation in that part of the world. Had any of us ever heard about the Unilazer Group? RM-USL or Ram Mohan? Not really... So, when we were given the chance of an apprenticeship at RM-USL Animation in Mumbai, it was a real opportunity. In our minds, the classic image of India, with its temples, elephants and traditions, was in total contrast to the animation industry, in which we had begun one year ago. Discovering all of this was too much of a temptation to be missed, and so the trip began. The only information we knew on our way there, were our references from AWN.

In front of the studio. All photos
© Yaprak Morali and Simon Sonnichsen.

Our Opportunity
The director of our school, Morten Thorning, met RM-USL's studio manager, Alice Manuel, during the 1999 Annecy Festival in France. Here the idea started that some of the students from The Animation Workshop in Denmark, could go to the Mumbai studio for an apprenticeship. The aim was to open the Indian studio to international cultures, and we were a good way to present Western animation. We spent time with animators, clean-up and layout artists discussing and comparing our styles and working methods.

The Unilazer Group is situated in the most Westernized town in India, Mumbai, the center of the Indian movie industry. With their Chairman, Ronnie Screwvala, United Television, or UTV, is involved with TV series, advertisements, in-flight programming, movie distribution, post-production and dubbing facilities, where movies like The Phantom Menace and Disney's Tarzan were dubbed into Hindi. On the ground and second floor of the Unilazer building stands RM-USL Animation, established in 1997. Its President, Ram Mohan, is a great figure in Indian and Asian animation. He has worked with many foreign companies, including creating the character design for the Japanese animated feature Ramayana, produced by Yugo Sako. In the past two years, the studio has already produced series for UNICEF, Saban/Fox and Ciné-Groupe. About 150-200 people work there. Most of the artists are art school graduates with excellent drawing skills.

On our first day at the studio, they took us out to a restaurant. Clockwise, from front left: Jonathan Rollins (student); Alice Manuel (studio manager); Snjiv, partially hidden behind Rollins, (head of animaton); Simon Sonnichsen (student); Yaprak Morali (student); Karen Molin (student); and Ram Mohan's son, Ram Mohan.

While we were there, the studio was working on the second season of Bad Dog, a co-production project between Saban/Fox and Ciné-Groupe, for worldwide release. At the same time, they started concept development on their original series, Me and Meetoo, an adventure series about a 10 year-old boy and his sidekick, a vegetarian vampire.

A Great Time of Learning
All of this was very profitable for both sides. In fact, we had never seen how a pre-produced animation was made before. This means of mass-production is a far cry from the "Disney feature style" that we had been learning about at school. On the other hand, this type of animation is spread all over the world, and it is the way most companies finance their own feature films. This was an excellent way for us to see this process, before reaching the working market. Plus, as most of the artists in the studio were great Disney fans, they were very interested in our knowledge.

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